“Just Get Me to the Church…”: Assessing Policies to Promote Marriage Among Fragile Families

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This article examines alternative approaches to encourage family formation among fragile families, including higher cash benefits, more liberal acceptance of welfare applications, more effective child support enforcement, and efforts to increase education and employment of low-income parents. We examine these approaches by refining and expanding previous work on a generalized logit model of the mothers' actual family formation outcomes, in a hierarchy that includes father absence, father involvement, cohabitation, and marriage. Refinements involve measurements of family formation that make our results more comparable to other studies and new controls for previous fertility with the father of the focal child and with another partner (multiple partner fertility). We estimate these models using interim data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being 12 month follow-up Survey. The results indicate that, unlike their effects on mature families, cash benefits increase the odds of family formation (short of marriage) among fragile families and effective child support enforcement increases the odds of marriage. However, the father's employment status outweighs the effects of these traditional income security policies on family formation, because it affects outcomes all along the hierarchy, including marriage, and its effects are larger. Unlike previous research, our data on previous fertility enables us to separate the effects of previous children in common from multiple partner fertility on family formation. Both significantly affect family formation (though in opposite directions), but even after including these variables, blacks, who are more likely to bring children from previous unions into a new union, have substantially lower odds of cohabitation and marriage than non-Hispanic whites.
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